Celluloid Philosophies

What’s a church leader to do if he wants to teach Christians how to witness to people who’ve been sucked into New Age teachings? Christian film critic Denis Haack came up with a novel answer: He showed a movie. The film was called Phenomenon, and it stars John Travolta playing a man who learns he is dying of a brain tumor. At a turning point in the film, Travolta’s character is shown communing with the wind and the trees, implying a spiritual oneness with nature. Haack used the movie to help Christians understand why New Age claims might prove attractive to people who want desperately to believe in something, but have not heard the Good News of Christ. The story illustrates how movies can be used to provide a window of insight into the culture around us. As Haack explains, "In order to understand people who do not share our deepest convictions, we have to gain some comprehension of what they believe, why they believe it, and how those beliefs work out in daily life." Modern films provide an especially good window of insight into the culture. For example, the children’s movie The Dark Crystal is another film that illustrates the appeal of the New Age. In the film, elfin creatures attempt to return a crystal shard to a castle guarded by evil creatures. In the end, the good and evil creatures merge, suggesting that good and evil are complementary sides of the same underlying reality—just as Hinduism teaches. The film Jurassic Park is known primarily for its spectacular special effects. But it also promotes an evolutionary view of life. A film called Days of Heaven tells the story of a young drifter who ends up on a Texas farm. The film is an excellent introduction to existentialism because it depicts life unfolding without any final meaning or purpose. One reason we need to watch these influential films is so that we won’t be sucked into the thinking of the surrounding culture. The culture can mold our thinking, our feelings, and our behavior in ways we don’t notice. Over time, our thinking may gradually change to conform to the world. This is just what the apostle Paul warned us against: We are not to conform to the pattern of this world. If we make ourselves aware of trends and beliefs in pop culture, we’ll learn to catch ourselves—to identify ways in which we may be slipping into unbiblical conformity. That’s doubly important when it comes to our kids, who must one day take their place in a society with peers who are themselves profoundly influenced by popular culture. We must train our children to be discerning. We must expose them to pop culture, including films, within the community of fellow believers who can help them understand the films’ message. So why not do what Denis Haack and his wife do: Pick out a good film that illustrates some contemporary worldview. Invite some friends over to watch and then discuss the film. Scripture warns Christians to put on the full armor of God to stand against Satan. Today we are not fully armed unless we prepare a battle plan to protect ourselves, our kids, and our Christian brethren against Tinseltown’s false philosophies.


Chuck Colson


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